Thirty anglers gathered at Blakewell Fishery for their Spring Competition a day that was to be blessed with warm spring sunshine. It was certainly a jovial atmosphere that pervaded the morning with old friends and new talking eagerly about the days fishing ahead. These competitions are little more than an excuse for a bunch of anglers to get together for a social with a bit of banter and a bent rod.
After the draw and a coffee we all set out to the lake that was tinged with colour after heavy rain two nights previous. This was probably a good thing as bright sunshine is seldom good for trout fishing. The morning session saw anglers enjoy steady sport with the fish fighting hard in the cool water. Glancing around the lake it was apparent that a multitude of patterns were producing fish. My first peg proved challenging and I only managed the one trout a handsome brown that was to be the heaviest brown of the day at 3lb 5oz.
My next peg proved more productive and within the second hour I had completed my mornings quota of five trout.(below)
This gave me the opportunity to wonder around the lake and capture a few images before lunch.
The hour-long lunch break saw the hungry anglers tucking into a hearty meal of sausages, potato stew, salad, fresh bread and red cabbage and onion. This was washed down with a cool can of beer followed by a slice of delicious homemade cake.
All of this was of course punctuated by plenty of tales of fish and fishy places.
The afternoon session is often the hardest and that one fish can often prove hard to tempt. But with a blue sky and fresh green buds all around it was not too much of a problem if it took a while to complete the days bag.
The competition came to a close at 4.00pm and all but two of the thirty anglers had completed their six fish limit. The scales showed that it had been a very close event with just three pounds separating the top twenty-five anglers.
1st Andy Facey – 6 fish – 15lb 7oz
2nd John Buxton – 6 fish – 14lb 15oz
3rd – Phil Martin – 6 Fish – 14lb 10oz
4th = Wayne Thomas – 6 Fish – 14lb 9oz
Colin Matthews – 6 Fish – 14lb 9oz
Paul Grisley – 6 Fish – 14lb 9oz
Whilst none of the big trout for which the fishery is renowned were caught several were glimpsed in the lake. A fine 13lb double figure rainbow was landed the previous day.
The fisheries facilities have been upgraded with a new toilet, fish weighing room and extended decking that will prove a hit on summer evenings when John and Richard Nickel plan a few summer BBQs and fishing events.
Next month sees the fishery host a Snowbee Open day when the latest tackle will be on display and available to try out with casting instruction from the Snowbee and Blakewell teams.
Wistlandpound Fly Fishing Club traveled to Wessex Waters Clatworthy Reservoir where they enjoyed some exciting sport. David Eldred won the competition with a five fish limit bag totaling 23lb 6oz that included a superb rainbow of 9lb 10oz. In runner up spot was Danny Ford with 21lb 12oz and third Richard Hopson with five fish for 18lb.
“Riverfly Partnership tutors deliver one-day workshops to fishing clubs and other organisations committed to establishing a group to monitor the biological water quality of their local waters.
Anglers are natural guardians of the river environment, and are in an ideal position to monitor the health of the watercourses they fish, by using the riverflies they aim to imitate with their artificial flies. Many angling and other interested groups expressed an interest to be able to carry out health checks on their waters. The Riverfly Partnership spearheads an initiative to allow interested groups to take action that will help conserve the river environment. This initiative provides a simple monitoring technique which groups can use to detect any severe perturbations in river water quality and puts them in direct communication with the local Ecological Contact of the Environment Agency (EA) / Scottish Environment Protection Agency – participating areas (SEPA) / National Resources Wales (NRW) / Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA). “
I joined a group of enthusiastic volunteers for a days training on the River Fly Initiative at The Fox and Hounds Country Hotel near Eggesford. The course was run in conjunction with the North Devon Biosphere and our tutor’s for the day were Matthew Edworthy from the North Devon Biospere and Izzy Moser from the Devon Wildlife Trust.
The group of volunteers was a mix of anglers and members of the community with a passion for Devon’s wildlife. All understood the importance of a healthy river and how the river fly population can act as a natural barometer to its health. Fly Fishers of course have a long established link to a rivers fly life as it is these creatures that the anglers mimic when trying to tempt the trout that live within the river.
It was observations by anglers that had helped to establish the vital link between the abundance of fly life and the richness of the river habitat. Observations over many decades revealed an alarming decline in fly populations. It was this that had lead to the River Fly Initiative.
The sampling of a section of river and careful gathering of data relating to fly life populations is a proven way of detecting any decline in the river health. This can show up problems long before any fish kill or visible signs of an issue.
The first part of the day was spent in the classroom where we were given a thought provoking briefing on health and safety and the risks we may encounter at the waters edge including the ever-present threat of Leptospirosis/Weils disease and lyme disease. We were then briefed on the identification of the fly groups we would be looking for within the river.
The life cycle of these river dwellers proved to be a fascinating insight into the rich variety of the life within our rivers and as an angler for close to fifty years I was somewhat dismayed at my lack of knowledge. Though this was one of the reasons I had enrolled on the course as knowledge of the river life enhances each day spent by the waters edge fishing.
The previous night had seen heavy rain fall over much of North Devon resulting in a brown and swollen River Taw. It seemed that our all-important practical session would be impacted upon but fortunately one of our party owned a delightful property with a small stream running through its meadow. After lunch we all tramped down to the river with our nets and buckets. Along the way we were delighted to see numerous rare snakehead fritillary flowers in the meadow.
It was refreshing to share in the joy of messing around in the river with a group of like-minded people. Whilst the exercise had a valuable purpose I could not help but remember childhood days spent exploring a babbling brook. My angling life began with this fascination for rivers and the life within.
The sampling method involves 3 minutes of intense riverbed kicking and a minute of rock turning. This resulted in several buckets full of river life and detritus to take away and analyze.
To our delight it soon became apparent that we had struck upon a rich vein of river life with all our target species present in good numbers. Sorting the fly larvae into their respective groups proved a fascinating exercise and there were plenty of enthusiastic exclamations as various larvae were revealed.
We returned to the Fox and Hounds for a briefing on logging our data and how this vital information would be used by the Environment Agency to monitor river health. There is of course a political background to this citizen science for a significant reduction in funding means that those that care about the environment have to get out there and work for the protection of the riverside habitat. It is my belief that the rivers are the arteries of our green and pleasant land. As an angler I of course have an additional link to the river in that I cast my line into it in the hope of connecting with its fish.
The Taw and Torridge have both dropped to a good level and as a result a couple of fine salmon have been tempted. Nick Briant landed a fine 12lb fresh run spring salmon with sea lice on the Rising Sun water just below Umberleigh Bridge. The fish was tempted using a black and yellow tube fly. On the Torridge a fresh run fish of 10lb was landed at Beam.
I cast a line on a middle Torridge beat; my first trip to the river this season with a month almost past by already. The daffodils that line the river in early March have already started to wilt though the primroses are at their best. Despite a lack of success it was great to be once again treading familiar paths and asking questions with the fly.
Members of the River Taw Fisheries Association assembled at High Bullen Hotel on March 17th for their Annual General Meeting an eagerly anticipated date in the Taw angler’s diary. Whilst primarily consisting of salmon and sea trout anglers there is a growing number of enthusiastic trout fishers who share the love of the river and care greatly about its future.
Many of the association members are riparian owners who work together for the overall good of the river within this well run organisation that has over the years contributed a great deal to enhancing the Taw habitat.
The meeting commenced with Chairman Alex Gibson summarizing the past twelve months on the river. The initial good news was that two salmon had been landed from the Taw in the past week. Alec introduced the evening’s guests including the main speaker Simon Evans (Chief Executive) of the Wye and Usk Foundation and Paul Carter our long serving Environment Agency Fisheries officer. Alex also acknowledged the achievements of Roger Furniss of the West Country Rivers Association and the attendance of Adrian Dowding of the West Country Rivers Trust.
I was saddened to learn of the death of Ron Warwick who I met with on several occasions to share his passion for fishing on the Taw. He was for several years my main source of news from the river and could always be relied upon to have up to date catches from the waters edge. I will always remember catching a silver barred spring run salmon from the Hall water on a silver stoat tail tied by Ron’s own hand. Ron was a true gentlemen his enthusiasm for life and fishing an inspiration.
Last years catches were disappointing with provisional catch returns indicating 146 salmon ad 299 sea trout. This was undoubtedly due in part to a lack of water throughout much of the season. The licensed salmon nets took 44 salmon and 55 sea trout from the estuary. Good news is the increasing number of brown trout being caught in the River particularly in the Upper Reaches.
There has at long last been success with the imminent removal of all drift netting from the estuary and its approaches (IFCA Approved subject to ratification). This will eradicate bye-catches of salmon, sea trout and bass. It will also help to protect vulnerable grey mullet populations and make policing the estuary far more straightforward. Salmon seine netting is EA controlled and will continue in June and July, there are three nets fishing, but net limitation order is for one.
The West Country Rivers Trust have carried out important work throughout the Taw to improve habitat with removal of debris dams, walk over surveys, fry surveys, farming advice and the collation of a catchment action plan. There is also the Riverfly Initiative http://www.riverflies.org/rp-riverfly-monitoring-initiative
Paul Carter gave an update on the latest from the Environment Agency with welcome news of additional support of trained enforcement officers to assist in the patrolling of West Country Waters. Paul expressed concerns at the disappointing redd counts experienced last winter.
Simon Evans (Chief Executive) of the Wye and Usk Foundation was the events main speaker and did not disappoint delivering a passionate talk and presentation covering the work of the Wye and Usk Foundation and the many challenges that we face both now and in the future.
Key elements in the talk were the need for all stakeholders to work together for the good of the environment. Habitat improvement is seen as the key with acidification, fish access, abstraction, drought, phosphates and soil wash off all major issues. The Wye and Usk Foundation have made huge efforts to engage with farming interests to address many of these issues. This is all very complex and we must realise that how we live, what we buy, and what we choose to eat has an impact on farming practices. It is clear that there are ways that farming practices can be modified to improve the environment and at the same time increase efficiency. Soil run off being a typical example, the loss of millions of tons of quality topsoil into rivers is clearly damaging to the river environment and a significant loss to the farmer.
The closing section of Simon’s presentation was perhaps the most alarming and covered the issue of Climate change and in particular the impact of temperature change in relation to salmon spawning and fry survival. There is a critical temperature typically 10 degrees C above which salmon do not spawn. In addition to this high water temperature can lead to premature hatching of fry in late winter instead of springtime when there is adequate food for fry growth and survival.
Global warming is of course a contentious subject that not all subscribe to, despite a huge amount of scientific data to support its existence. I personally accept that climate change happens and has always happened the only question is how much has mankind contributed? There is hope that salmon will adapt and that evolution will ensure their survival. This could of course mean that they simply stop inhabiting our local rivers and shift further north?
The presentation was followed by the annual fund raising auction that provides a significant proportion of the associations income. The association thank all who have made generous donations to the auction and all those who took part in the enthusiastic bidding for lots.
Talking around the table over our meal afterwards it was clear that we had all seen a dramatic decline in populations of both sea trout and salmon populations in local rivers within the last thirty years. It was also apparent that there is still a great passion for the future of angling and an almost inexhaustible optimism for each coming season.
For more information on the Wye and Usk Foundation visit: –
For more information on the River Taw Fisheries Association visit: –
March 15th sees the start of the trout fishing season on running water and we are fortunate to have miles of wild brown trout fishing here in North Devon. What these trout lack in size they make up for in their beauty and tenacity giving a spirited fight on light tackle. Perhaps the real joy of wild trout fishing is the being beside our rivers as spring unwinds all around with wild flowers and birdsong reverberating through the air.
I could not resist a few casts today and tempted a beautifully marked brown trout with a just a few flicks into the fast flowing river. A small gold headed nymph will generally work well at this time with sparsely tied spider patterns also productive.
I can report that Andy Nixon has landed the first reported salmon of the River Torridge season whilst fishing a lower River Beat controlled by the Half Moon Inn at Sheepwash. The fresh run 8lb salmon was sea liced and is great news and will undoubtedly encourage more to venture forth and cast a line for one of angling greatest prizes.
I drove over both the Taw and Torridge yesterday and both rivers looked to be in perfect trim. Below is the Taw at Newbridge running a little high but as each day passes it will become easier to fish and those spring run fish will start to settle into their spring lies.
Wistlandpound Opens for fishing on March 15th after an initial stocking that was witnessed by Wistlandpound Fly Fishing Club Secretary Steve Edmunds :-
Torre Trout put in the stocking yesterday. The initial stocking of 685 brown trout was as follows:
450 trout between 7″ and 10″ 140 trout weighing 1lb, 80 weighing 1lb 8oz 15 weighing 2lb.
They put in 2000 last year and only a couple of hundred were shown on catch returns. Even allowing for a few anglers forgetting to put in returns and the cormorants having a few, we should have about 1600 from last year plus 685 this year so about 2300 stocked plus naturals. I also understand that S W Lakes intend putting some more in around June.
Wistlandpound Information – From SWLT
Two stocking of Brown trout. One stocking a few days before the season starts on 15th March and one in early May.
· Season is 15th March to 12th October in line with EA byelaws for brown trout fishing
· Less fish than last year but some larger size
· Majority of fish still 8-10 inch but a good number of fish at 1lb and 1.5lbs with a scattering of 2lb fish.
· The fishery is only in its second season as a Brown trout fishery –the idea is to build stock levels the first couple of seasons and depending on progress and interest in the fishing we would then alter the stocking accordingly moving forwards with larger fish etc. This is still the plan local support is vital to achieve this and continue to move forwards sustainability.
Prices are the same as last season £15.50 for full day, £13.50 for concession day, £5 for children, £195 for season ticket, £160 for concession season.
· Boat price is £10 per day for members
· Volunteers and WFFC members, Dave Bocock and Steve Edmunds will help with permit checking, managing boat bookings and asking dog owners to comply with the regulations (dogs on leads and out of the water)
· New swims have been opened up and will be maintained by new SWLT warden Chris Eyles with assistance from volunteers Dave and Steve
· SWLT are keen for more volunteers to assist with bailiffing / practical sessions – please contact me: [email protected]
· Day Permit agents are the same as before (including Challacombe Post Office, Calvert Trust reception etc)